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February 14, 2017

Lefty’s 'Duck Shots’ and Winning

Harry M. Covert

I was glad to see Lefty Driesell honored by the Maryland Terps over the weekend. There was a full house of fans and former players on hand for the unveiling of a big banner hanging from the rafters recognizing his 17 years and 348 wins at College Park.


The celebration was a longtime in coming. Without any argument he put the Terrapins’ basketball program on the map.


What a coach he was. Ask any of his colleagues and they’ll say he was quite the recruiter, teacher and promoter.


Charles G. (Lefty) Driesell was a Granby High School all-state player from Norfolk, VA. who went on to a standout career at Duke (1950-1954). He made his way into the coaching business, first at his high school alma mater for two years and then across Hampton Roads to Newport News High School. Would you believe his teams raced to a 57 game winning streak?


His coaching prowess was no joke. He left his secondary school record for Davidson College. His first year there was his only losing season. From then on Davidson became a sports world name. Winning was the game.


I’ve been a Driesell fan since those days 60 years ago. He was a natural, knew the business of developing good players and teams. He was 25 years old and raring to go coaching. I might add Newport News High School in those days was Virginia’s premier basketball program.


On a 1957 fall afternoon, the school’s athletic director, the fabled Julie Conn, and other coaches met in the gymnasium to welcome Lefty. I was rather anxious as a rookie sports writer for The Times-Herald, the afternoon paper. Coach Conn said I could watch but not on the ground floor. He sent me to the balcony. I watched and tried to listen.


Suddenly, Lefty started dribbling and throwing up shots. All swishes. Then he got serious and began talking about coaching philosophy. I can point out the Newport News High attitude then was winning. They did all the time. There was no player recruitment allowed out of the city.


Lefty kept on dribbling, not showing off, but displaying the technique for scoring points with layups. Let me explain, they weren’t called “layups” in those days.


“Here’s how to make duck shots,” he said. He proceeded to drive in and make the easy baskets from the left side then the right. He insisted “duck shots” won basketball games.


From that afternoon I always enjoyed watching Driesell’s teams play and win. The game today is riveted with dunk shots of all varieties. Maybe flashier. Certainly today it’s a different game, three-pointers, shooting clocks and million dollar coaching salaries.


It was fun watching Lefty’s career. His classic “V” for victory became a collegiate trademark, but it began on the high school courts of Tidewater Virginia.


For some absurd reason, the Lefthander has been ignored for membership in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. His contemporaries all believe he should have been selected by now.


His achievements haven’t gone unnoticed. They never will be. He was inducted in the second class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995. Maybe the Naismith Memorial will catch on later.


For the record, he’s been coach of the year twice at Davidson, Maryland and James Madison and once at Georgia State.


He’s also a member of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, the University of Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame, Southern Conference Hall of Fame and Hampton Roads (Va.) Hall of Fame.


This is the story of a great coach. Oh, remember his arrival at Cole Fieldhouse in 1969? The goal, he boasted with a full page advertisement in The Washington Post, was to make Maryland the UCLA of the East. He did.


At 85, he probably can’t make any “duck shots,” but he’d probably try. I recall vividly that coaching clinic six decades ago.


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